As the movie begins, we're introduced to Ingston Mansion, a fine old house surrounded by a wall and iron gates, out in the countryside and adjacent to a spooky stretch of fog-shrouded badlands. The movie was made in 1942, but the setting may be earlier than that – the Ingstons have an elegant-looking automobile, but the locals use horse and wagon.
We're quickly introduced to Margaret Ingston (played by Fay Helm) – she's disturbed by the blood stains that appear in the old house, and we learn she has sent for a doctor to determine if she is losing her mind. Her antagonist is housekeeper Mrs. Judd (Doris Lloyd), who denies that she has been cleaning up any bloodstains, is protective of family patriarch Kurt Ingston (Ralph Morgan), and is angry with Margaret for involving outsiders.
Next, we meet maid Milly (Janet Shaw), who is trying to make a phone call – she suspects something! But she is interrupted by butler Rolf (Bela Lugosi), so she declares she is quitting! She gets a ride from hulking chauffeur Laurie (Leif Erickson), but she bails from the car when he becomes too aggressive – is he protecting Kurt Ingston, or does he always treat women this way?
Meanwhile, we learn that Kurt Ingston is a wealthy man, but left crippled after medical science failed to cure his illness. He now donates money to medical research. Three of the doctors who treated him previously have been invited to the mansion, all hoping to secure research funds: Dr. King (Lionel Atwill), Dr. Timmons (Frank Reicher), and Dr. Phipps (Francis Pierlot).
Then there's Dr. Lynn Harper (Irene Hervey), the doctor Margaret called for – she's driving, but her car breaks down in the spooky lands and she sees something in the mist! Fortunately, Dick Baldwin (Don Porter) comes along to rescue her – he's a horror writer, and a friend of Kurt Ingston. They, too, join the group at the mansion.
And I forgot to mention Torque (Cyril Delevanti), the creepy gatekeeper with the guard dogs. And Agor Singh (Nils Asther), the turban-wearing mentalist friend of Kurt Ingston.
And remember maid Milly? She has ridden to town in the wagon of Jed Harmon (Eddy Waller) and begs Constable Cap Beggs (Robert Homans) to investigate what's going on at the mansion!
Soon, the murders begin…
It's a large and talented cast. Invalid Kurt Ingston is played by Ralph Morgan, who may look familiar – his brother, Frank Morgan, played the Wizard of Oz! Bela Lugosi gets top billing, but is he the bad guy or the red herring? The ever-entertaining Lionel Atwill is the expert doctor who doesn't believe in Agor Singh's mentalism – Agor is played by Nils Asther, a Swedish actor who at this point is at the fading end of his career in films, and they seem to be using him here for his 'foreign' accent. Leif Erickson is best known as the patriarch on the High Chaparral TV Western series, but works excellently here as the charming/menacing chauffeur. Don Porter is the erstwhile protagonist, and does fine; his 'love interest' is Irene Hervey, whose character starts out as a tough, professional doctor. Fay Helm almost steals the show as the possibly mad younger sister of Kurt Ingston. It's just a movie where everyone does well in their parts!
The identity of the murderer is rather easy to guess, but there are some twists along the way, and characters don't always die in the order you expect! The special effects are surprisingly effective.
I liked this one a lot. (And now I have a crush on Fay Helm…)
This movie would easily work in most horror RPGs, and some of the concepts could be applied to wargaming characters. There are also plenty of ideas here to inspire minis – the invalid in a wheelchair or carried by the chauffeur, the mentalist in turban, the housekeeper, the butler, the Night Monster itself…